Originally, I wanted to make an annotated list of 61 albums that stuck with me, meaning formed the foundations for everything I’m currently listening to. I wanted to dedicate it to my dad, who’s turning 61 today and from whom I inherited a shit ton of vinyl. The list is at the bottom of this post, sans the annotations, as an endnote, but along the way I realized the futility of that pursuit considering what it means to have an album–which is essentially an acquisition. Of course it accounts for so much in terms of having a material record of music we love, but it’s still a thing–it does not account for the difference between, say, playing, or hearing someone play live, or pestering a DJ every weekend to play something, or seeing a video, or streaming audio on realplayer.
I grew up in the 90’s, but I didn’t start buying albums with my own money ’til I was around 11 or 12. That kind of financial independence (albeit very shallow) has profound effects on how we actualize our identities through the things we acquire and eventually keep.
I remember going to Odyssey in Virra Mall once with my mom, and when she asked if I wanted anything, I showed her a 4-non Blondes tape, which she barely even glanced at before saying no. As (what may have been) an experiment, I went and got a tape with Winnie the Pooh on it (I can’t even remember what it was…if it was a soundtrack or someone like Stephen Fry reading Winne the Pooh, all I remember is Winnie the Pooh was on it) and this time she said yes. So I was like, “No, I don’t want it!” And she just shot me this bewildered look, and I think she just figured that I had no idea what I wanted. Out of life.
I may not have completely understood the difference, but I knew it wasn’t worth it to argue with her over why she’d get me some dumbfuck Winnie the Pooh soundtrack thing, but not the 4 Non-Blondes album. The 4 Non-Blondes after all were super cool. They had that one song. Remember that one song?
I did however understand that of course I didn’t have the luxury of choice! It wasn’t my money! But while it wasn’t my money, it was my ears we were talking about here; I would have to accept that for now my mom’s money would dictate what I would have to listen to. But that just didn’t seem right. I don’t think I ever set foot in a record store with my mom again, and after that, visiting record stores became a solitary (I SAID SOLITARY, NOT LONELY) activity. This was 19 years ago, so it has stayed that way pretty much FOREVER.
I was pretty lucky though, because before I got enough money to buy myself the freedom to choose (we’re talking about tapes and CDs here, but also about life), I was given a box of casettes, by my brother, basically setting the stage for what I would deem “cool” for the rest of my life. I remember starting with the Judgment Day soundtrack, because I’d wanted to get my hands on that bad boy for quite some time, and having my mind blown by the collaboration between Cypress Hill and Sonic Youth. I knew Sonic Youth were cool because we had way too many of their tapes for them not to be cool, and thus…
The first album I bought with my own money, from that very same branch of Odyssey in which I wasn’t granted the pleasure to play “What’s up?” on repeat, was Sonic Youth’s Evol.
Yay! Go me! Whoohoo! But! But, it’s not exactly that simple. The thing is, I didn’t even listen to it! I swear, I tried, but we’re talking about an album that was released when I wasn’t even a year old, for an audience that was more than twice my age at the time when I bought it. Sure, I tried to listen to it, tried being the operative term here. Maybe I actually knew what it meant for music like this to exist, or some notion of cultural relevance had permeated into what was actually a failed exercise in consumer autonomy. Maybe I managed well enough to pretend my way into understanding, but the bottom line was I didn’t!
What I did though was read Lisa Crystal Carver’s liner notes while pretending to listen, and that has left an impression on me to this day. What she wrote still lingers in the back of my head as I type this, and that brings me back to the futility of making this list (which I sort of made anyway, I mean I got up to no. 50something, before the inner monologue evolved into this blog entry [for my dad, which he’ll never even read. Happy birthday, Papa!]).
Can a list of albums really account for the myriad ways that music can leave a dent? I think about the ways in which I’ve enjoyed music—in the audience, as a consumer, as someone who played music (which is a weird secret to keep, considering I still have friends who know me, and only knew me, as someone who played music [in high school. Badly). Of course a physical element as represented by an album is crucial, I mean why else would we call it a recording? But songs begin and end, and beyond all the albums I’ve bought, loved, and let go of over the years, one moment that stands out was sitting on the floor in my mom’s bedroom and feeling something inside me just light up when Soundgarden’s “Pretty Noose” came on MTV, resulting in this odd mix of confusion and enthusiasm and excitement. I think my brother (who was sitting next to me at the time) saw that my face was doing weird things while watching this video, because that was the first (and maybe only) time I heard him say that “Alice has good taste in music.” This was a few years before he handed down the box full of cassettes.
But I don’t have that Soundgarden album. I was too young to buy it then and I don’t exactly see any need to make room in my life (or on my shelves) for it now that I can. The same thing goes for concerts: I can barely even remember who I was there to see, when I first started going to the bigger shows; when words like “lineup” and “setlist” (as in, “Try to steal the…”) entered my vocabulary. Wanting to go, to see someone play live, was just to confirm the existence of something that had previously been contained or confined. Like, “Hey, Sandwich! I heard those guys on the radio! Now I get to see them!” But it also meant congregation, and unpredictability, and being there for something that was happening to everyone not only simultaneously, but for the first time ever. No matter how long you’ve been coming to this bar, every time is the first time when it comes to performance—which is something we so easily take for granted in this age of insta-real-time-upload everything that happened just now.
These are things I can’t really talk to my dad about, but these are also things I understand better because of what he has contributed just by owning a record player, and liking what he liked, and making sure I heard these things he held so dear and would possibly love them just as much.
- The Original Broadway Recording of Hair
- The Beatles, Revolver and Abbey Road
- Queen, Greatest Hits, vol. 1
- Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinites Sadness
- Tool, Undertow
- Nine Inch Nails, Broken and The Downward Spiral
- Rancid, And Out Come the Wolves
- Weezer, The Blue Album
- The Rentals, The Return of The Rentals
- Portishead, s/t
- Jeff Buckley, Grace
- Sonic Youth, Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star and Washing Machine
- Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink
- Hole, Live Through This
- V/A, Singles OST
- Sugar Hiccup, Oracle and Womb
- Veruca Salt, American Thighs and Eight Arms to Hold You
- PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love, Rid of Me, and Dance Hall at Louse Point
- Bis, This is Teen-C Power
- Belle and Sebastian, The Boy with the Arab Strap
- The Pixies, Bossa Nova
- Throwing Muses, In a Doghouse
- Belly, King
- V/A, SubUrbia OST
- The Slackers, Wasted Days
- Bad Religion, All Ages
- Imago, Probably Not But Most Definitely
- Cynthia Alexander, Insomnia and Other Lullabyes and Rippingyarns
- Sebadoh, The Sebadoh
- Twisted Halo, s/t aka “Dead Tree”
- Rancid, s/t (2000)
- Morphine, Yes and Cure for Pain
- The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi vs The Pink Giant Robots
- Elbow, Asleep in the Back
- Sugarfree, Sa Wakas
- V/A, Mulholland Drive OST
- Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup
- Up Dharma Down, Fragmented
- Broken Social Scene, You Forgot it in People
- Yo La Tengo, Painful
- The Mountain Goats, Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree
- Animal Collective, Feels
- The Magnetic Fields, The Wayward Bus/Distant Plastic Trees
- Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
- The Walkmen, You and Me
- TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain and Dear Science
- Ang Bandang Shirley, Themesongs
- The Books, The Lemon of Pink
- of Montreal, The Sunlandic Twins and Hissing Fauna…Are you the Destroyer?
- LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
- Dan Deacon, Bromst
- Hannah and Gabi, Haha Yes
- Shugo Tokumaru, Exit
- Twin Shadow, Forget